The average presentation is forty-five minutes but a wonderful phenomenon is happening because of the influence of TED.com. TED is a conference that confines their presenters to 18 minutes. The good 18-minute talks go viral and spread ideas. Tight presentations are hard to do because all the key points need to be succinct in a short timeframe forcing the presenter to prepare. It’s easier to blather on for an hour than talk for a tight 18 minutes. At TED though, if you go over your allotted timeslot, you (literally) get the hook.
The culling process forces you to convey only the most important information for spreading your idea. The amount of rehearsal time is inversely proportionate to the length of the talk. The shorter the talk, the longer the rehearsal time. In this case, for an 18-minute talk, it could take up to 18 hours to rehearse. An hour a minute? That’s probably fair for someone who’s a professional presenter. A less seasoned speaker may need more!
I [Nancy Duarte] delivered a talk at TEDxEAST and was thrilled to look up at the clock just as it was ticking down with six seconds left. Victory! Then, I delivered a similar talk at the INK Conference in India but was restricted to only 15 minutes. I practiced like mad and timed it to a perfect 14 1/2 minutes, but the day of the presentation I was heavily medicated for a severe chest cold. I spoke from a fog, my time spread thin, and I got the dreaded “hook” because I ran one minute over. I would have run two minutes over if I hadn’t had step number three for creating a tight talk in place.
Here are the three steps for creating a tight talk:
/ONE Print your current slide deck as 9-up handouts. The 9-up format is conveniently the same size as the smallest sticky note. Arrange and re-arrange your message and add sticky notes until you are happy with the flow. Make sure you cut at least one-third of the slides you use for an hour-long talk.
Trim and trim until you feel like it is close to 18 minutes. During this process it will be clear that your big idea could be communicated much more effectively than it had been. Assemble a handful of people you trust to give honest feedback on your mini-little-sticky-note slide deck. Verbally run the ideas by these folks—it doesn’t have to be a formal presentation. The purpose for having them look at all the little mini-slides at once is you want feedback on the “whole,” not the parts.
/TWO Practice with clock counting up, then down. The first few times, rehearse with the clock counting up. That’s because if you go over, you need to know by how much. Do NOT be looking at the clock at this time. Have your coach look at it because you don’t want to remember any of the timestamps in your mind. Finish your entire talk and then have your coach tell you how much you need to trim. One minute, three minutes. Your coach should be able to tell you “trim 30 seconds here” or “add 15 seconds there” so that your content is weighted toward the most important information. Once you’re within 18 minutes, begin practicing with the clock counting down. You need to establish a few places in your talk where you benchmark a timestamp. Calculate roughly where you should be at six, twelve, and eighteen minutes. Know which slide you should be on and what you’re saying at each 6-minute moment so that you will know immediately from the stage if you’re on time or running over.
/THREE Have two natural ending points. When I was getting the “wrap it up” signals from the show producers in India, I wanted to accuse the show operators of not really giving me a full 15 minutes on the clock. But I was the one who blew it. It might have been the medications I was on for my chest cold, but my timer was blinking 00:00 before I was done. Fortunately, I’d embedded two natural places to end my talk. I had an ending that made the talk complete and I stopped there. What I didn’t have time to get to was the inspirational ending that would have had the audience on their feet and screaming (well, they did end up on their feet, they just weren’t screaming).